Man's Hide Leggings with Quill and Fringe Decorations, Nez Perce

Summary: 
Part of the Spalding-Allen Collection purchased by the Nez Perce Tribe in 1996 from the Ohio Historical Society. The leggings were made by Nez Perce between 1830 and 1845.
Description: 

Each legging is made of one cured unsmoked deer skin with ankle tab inserts and porcupine quill decorated side panels.

Left leg NEPE 8751

Right leg NEPE 8752

Cultural Narrative: 

Josiah Pinkham on Nez Perce design:

 

"When we make things, and we make them as a Nez Perce, it’s so that we can manufacture that and a Nez Perce person will wear that, and they’ll stand there and they’ll look like a Nez Perce. And that sets us apart from other people in our area. Not because we’re better, but because we have a unique place in this world. And part of that unique place is the visual appearance of what it means to look like a Nez Perce. We wear particular things and that’s what separates us. And it’s also because we have a unique way of putting those things together because it’s a reflection of our relationship with our landscape. 

And so another thing to back that up is that when we make things like this, it’s with hopes that when our future generations come along, they see that relationship and they want to embrace that relationship in a way that ensures their survival, too. Because one of the things that I know is that the Nez Perce people have been here the longest. And it’s because we have strived for generations to have a sensitive relationship with the landscape. And that landscape includes deer. It includes elk, plants, water, fish. You know, all those different types of things. We don’t get there on our own. We have a lot of help. We’ve got deer looking out for us. We’ve got elk helping us out. We’ve got buffalo feeding us. Salmon. All those things kind of culminate in a visual appearance that says look at the way that I am here. These are the things that take care of me. I’m not parading these things around because I’m a proud Nez Perce. I’m wearing these things as a sense of gratitude for what takes care of me. That’s a really different perspective than when people dress for occasions nowadays. I mean, it’s a way different perspective. So when we manufacture things like this, it’s also a process of prayer. Because you’re praying that when your kids come to be and they have their grandkids, what you’re praying for is hey, I really want you guys to help me take care of this, because this is special. And I want you guys to take care of this because this is going to not only ensure that your kids have as good a quality of life as I do, but that their kids will have that quality of life, too. And that’s one of the things that we’re losing. And that’s what this stuff represents on a spiritual level is that it’s really important for us to carry that on and to maintain that visual appearance. Because it’s not about the striking visuals, it’s about the deeper meaning that that symbolizes. And it’s really hard to articulate."

Traditional Knowledge: 

Nakia Williamson-Cloud on the connection between the items in the Spalding-Allen Collection, the elders, and the land:

 

"We have to maintain connections to these things that tie us back to this land. And these things truly do that. And not only to the land, but to our experiences and our history that reinforces our identity. And so I think that I try to retain not only these items that were handed down from generation to generation and up unto myself, but also try to have understanding about how these things are made, how they’re put together and what that means to us as Nez Perce people. I try to have that kind of understanding as well. Not simply that I have the item and if I were to lose the item, then that’s it. I’m trying to retain the knowledge about a lot of these things as well. So again, that’s important.

I want my son and I want my nieces and nephews and someday grandchildren to understand what these mean to us. And that they have a deep meaning to us because of what they represent. And to respect them and not to trivialize them in any way. 

As we’re told in our way of life, we’re taking care of our life as Indian people. And that’s how we do it is in a lot of these ways that connect us back to the land. That’s the way we take care of ourselves. And it’s a continual maintenance that we have to do. And it’s the work we have to put forth and the effort we have to put forth. And never forget it. And always hold onto it. And we have to keep that knowledge that ties us to this land. And that’s so important. Without that, like I said, you know, everything does not really matter as much.

Because these are, all the things that we have within our culture are just basically devices and ways in which we connect ourselves to our elders and to our land. And they’re reminders, constant reminders to us of our true value system and identity as Nez Perce people. And so when you surround yourself with these things and it continues to reinforces and reminds you on a day to day basis, you know, who you are and what you represent. And that’s really important. So that’s what a lot of these do for us is they remind us of the old people.

So they used to say this about how to be. Or they would say this of how to hunt. Or they would say this was the proper time to dig roots. It just allows you a way into, to tap in and to remember that knowledge. 
And it’s knowledge that can never really truly be written down and encapsulated in a book or in any written form. And that’s what our old people talked about. It’s something you have to live and it has to be inside your heart. Because you can write it down, and write things down. And that’s good in a way. But unless you live it and believe it and do it, and it’s a part of you, when you write something down, it automatically limits it. Because it’s only limited to what’s on the written page. And there’s so much more to a lot of these things that our people understood. And so that’s a part of it. These are part of the ways in which we access that knowledge and access that type of understanding. And they’re reminders to us about the value system of our elders and everything else that are important to maintaining our identity."

Description: 

 

Nakia Williamson-Cloud interprets the Man’s Leggings in the Spalding-Allen Collection , by WSU CDSC